Nuclear Cheese

In which 5 Lands’ End writers attempt to conquer the dreaded limburger sandwich.

These three things are not as frightening when you do them as you thought they would be:

Public Speaking
Having a Colonoscopy
Eating Limburger

Limburger is widely considered the stinkiest cheese in the world. It was invented by 19th century monks in the Duchy of Limburg, which is now part of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. (When your robe smells that bad, people encourage you to move along.)

Today, Limburger is made in only one town in America: Monroe, Wisconsin, where Master Cheesemaker Myron Olson still applies a strain of bacteria first cultured in 1911. The stuff then sits for months until a reeking, ammonia-like miasma develops, indicating that it is ready for launch.

Canaries flee to mineshafts.

Recently a cabal of copywriters from Lands’ End took preemptive Zantac, drove to Monroe, sat down at a table in the grand old tavern you see here and said to a waiter (resplendent as he was in his “I cut the cheese at Baumgartner’s” t-shirt), “Release the kraken!”

Too soon, limburger sandwiches arrived. Each was topped with a chocolate mint, like a housekeeper might place on your pillow if hotels stuffed pillows with the gym socks from junior high school lockers on the last hot day of school.

“The mints are more for me than you,” said the waiter, who acknowledged just as we raised limburger to lips that he himself did not eat it.


Layered on the dreaded curd slab was a slice of Bermuda onion. It would be the piquant star on the culinary marquis of an ordinary roast beef sandwich, yet was nothing but a bit player here. Adding mustard was like scotch taping a helium balloon to the side of a NASA rocket:

“Here, this’ll help.”

No whey.

This rare cheese even carries its own legends

In the film “Shoulder Arms,” Charlie Chaplin throws Limburger across enemy lines like a grenade. The enemy surrenders.

In 1935, a mail carrier in Independence, Iowa (if there is a more patriotic-sounding town in America, I salute it)  was overcome by the odor of a package of Limburger and the postmaster banned it from the mail.

And in Monroe on this day, we took our first bite.

Our lay-flat polo collars curled up like a cat in a window.
Our no-iron fabrics wrinkled into origami.
Our Guaranteed Periods became Guaranteed Exclamation Points.

But we all survived. It really is the smell, not the taste, that offends. Hence the sign over the bar: Limburger: don’t eat it with your nose. The taste and texture are like that of an unusually strong brie. Not so bad. But once is enough.


What I needed afterward was a breath mint the size of trash can lid. Lacking that, I drove home (windows open) and cleansed my palette with a strong cigar out on the porch. I would have needed binoculars to spot the wife on the distant horizon of our king-size bed that night.


Still, it could have been worse. It could have been lutefisk.


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